MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) Central Florida coach Donnie Jones found some positives for his team despite falling to Memphis.
"There were a lot of great efforts from our team," Jones said following the Knights 76-70 loss to the 20th-ranked Tigers on Wednesday night. "I love the way they are cheering for each other. The way they are in the locker room talking to each other. There are things that don't show up in the win column. There are a lot of good things to look at. We just have to get a jumpstart."
For awhile, The Knights (9-13, 1-0 American Athletic Conference) stayed with the nationally-ranked Tigers. Only a 15-2 burst late in the second half gave Memphis enough of a buffer to endure one more push from Central Florida.
"We just continued to push it, play how we usually do," Jones said. "We're just trying to get where we don't have as many empty possessions."
Tristan Spurlock led the Knights with 18 points and 10 rebounds, while Isaiah Sykes scored 14 points, but was 6 of 16 from the field. Kasey Wilson scored 10 as Central Florida lost its ninth straight.
Calvin Newell, who entered the game averaging 11 points, was held to three, finishing 1 of 5 from the field.
Joe Jackson scored 18 points and Shaq Goodwin added 14 for the Tigers (19-5, 8-3). Chris Crawford and Michael Dixon finished with 10 points each for Memphis.
"We found a way to get the W," Memphis coach Josh Pastner said. "It was not pretty. You've got to give Central Florida credit. But we got the W, that's the bottom line.
The 15-2 rally took the Memphis lead to 68-54 when Dixon hit two free throws with 2:13 left.
The Knights chipped away at the advantage in the final two minutes, but it was too large for them to threaten down the stretch.
"They hit a 3 and that's what good team's do," Jones said of the Tigers. "Then we missed, we come down and foul. They miss the free throws and get those offensive rebounds. Before you know it, it's an 8-0 run and we're trying to catch up."
Memphis continually struggled to hold onto the basketball in the second half as the UCF defense became physical and pestered the Tigers. Additionally, the Knights were controlling the boards, particularly the offensive glass. The Tigers led 53-52 with 5:16 left after a dunk by Wilson.
Then Memphis took over with its game-changing run. A dunk by David Pellom on a fastbreak after a Central Florida turnover made it 64-54 with 3:32 left.
"It was gut-check time," Pellom said, later adding: "We did not carry over our progress in the first half into the second half, and UCF took advantage of it."
At one point in the first half, official Jim Burr had a fan tossed from the front row after the spectator said something to the veteran referee. It was unclear exactly what was said.
While Pastner acknowledged his team's energy was good, the Tigers were off on their execution, and he also was disturbed by the Knights rebounding advantage.
And despite coming off a win over nationally-ranked Gonzaga last Saturday and traveling to No. 24 Connecticut this Saturday, players were adamant they didn't overlook Central Florida.
"This is a tough league," Dixon said. "UCF probably doesn't have the record that they want, but they've been in a lot of ball games until the end. ... We didn't play the way we were supposed to necessarily, but we came out with the win, and that's all that really matters in the end."